The best books about toys

23 authors have picked their favorite books about toys and why they recommend each book.

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A Wish After Midnight

By Zetta Elliot,

Book cover of A Wish After Midnight

Two Black teenagers in New York are thrown back in time to the Civil War era. Suddenly the similarities and differences of what it means to be Black in America are also thrown into relief, past and present both converging and clashing. Genna is our first-person narrator, and through her, we live fully in two worlds—one in which she struggles to go to college and leave behind the dangers of her Brooklyn neighborhood and one in which she struggles to stay alive in a volatile society which offers little support to the poor and vulnerable of any race.


Who am I?

The fantastical attracts me as something not less real than the world but as a revelation of the world: the magic and beauty that underlies everything. This is pantheism, the belief that all parts of the universe are connected and deserve our awe and wonder. This is also social justice and how we treat all living things on the Earth we so remarkably and briefly share. As the author of some dozen published books, translated into nine languages, I also write about science and nature in adult nonfiction, as well as YA fantastical history and speculative fiction. Again, they are connected. I teach writing, and I love to write.


I wrote...

Teresa of the New World

By Sharman Apt Russell,

Book cover of Teresa of the New World

What is my book about?

In 1528, the real-life conquistador Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked in the New World where he lived for eight years as a slave, trader, and medicine man. In this award-winning and lyrical historical fantasy, the adventurer takes his young daughter Teresa from her home to walk with him in search of Spanish outposts. But life there is not what Teresa’s father had promised. As a kitchen servant for a Spanish official, Teresa grows up estranged from the magic she knew as a child, when she could speak to the earth and listen to animals. When an epidemic devastates the area, the sixteen-year-old sets off through a land stalked by Plague: smallpox, measles, typhus, scarlet fever. She befriends a were-jaguar and abandoned warhorse. As they search for their place in the New World, Teresa must travel farther and deeper than she had ever imagined.

Playing with History

By Molly Rosner,

Book cover of Playing with History: American Identities and Children's Consumer Culture

Toys! Dolls! Amusement Parks! They aren’t just playthings and play places; they are part of our national character and our consumer culture, as well as our private objects and experiences. Childhood is manufactured—created in our homes, communities, schools, and yes, by play. This book has a lot to say about our history but it is also a fun reminder of the things many of us grew up with or wish we had. It just might have you rooting through your attic or old photo books.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing, speaking, blogging, and tweeting about the history of American children and their childhoods for many decades. When I went to school—a long time ago—the subject did not come up, nor did I learn much in college or graduate school. I went out and dug up the story as did many of the authors I list here. I read many novels and autobiographies featuring childhood, and I looked at family portraits in museums with new eyes. Childhood history is fascinating and it is a lot of fun. And too, it is a great subject for book groups.


I wrote...

Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America Into the Twentieth Century

By Janet Golden,

Book cover of Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America Into the Twentieth Century

What is my book about?

Babies Made Us Modern analyzes the dramatic transformations in the lives of babies during the 20th century. I take my readers through the story of how babies shaped American society and culture. Babies led their families into the modern world, helping them to become more accepting of scientific medicine, and leading adults into consumer culture as parents and others shopped for baby items. Curiosity about babies led Americans to become open to new theories about human development and to welcome government programs and advice.

Babies weren’t just pathbreakers, they also kept families rooted in traditions, from religious celebrations to cultural practices, to folk medicine. This is also a story about diversity that explains how gender, race, region, class, and community shaped life in the nursery and was, in turn, shaped by the vulnerabilities of babies.

The Little Engine That Could

By Watty Piper,

Book cover of The Little Engine That Could

This book was originally published in 1930 and also goes back a long way in my own life as well. I have fond memories of my father reading this story to me when I was young, acting out all the parts of the story, using different voices, and more. Despite being little and unassuming, the Little Blue Engine uses hope and belief to get over the mountain. Without belief in ourselves we often can’t even begin to try, but the Little Blue Engine chose to trust in himself and it paid off - big time. We can all use a little more belief in our own abilities to create massive change in our lives.


Who am I?

I continue to find hope as a constant theme in my talks and my various media appearances. Hope is so integral to being able to fight for another day. When we can plant the seed of hope and perseverance in kids from a young age, by giving the gift of books that show them the true meaning of hope and aspirations, we give them a gift that carries them well through life.


I wrote...

Someday Soon

By Ari Gunzburg,

Book cover of Someday Soon

What is my book about?

Someday Soon was written and published in the deep part of the coronavirus pandemic, to give hope to children in those troubling times. In the very early days of the pandemic, everyone was scared and stayed in to save themselves and those around them. 

As we move past those early days in which everyone felt to be in mortal danger, with mass shutdowns occurring throughout the known world, many people see that Someday Soon is finally on the horizon. This book is a tool to open a discussion about those troubled times, or to remember what those times meant. Times when there was no school, no friends, no family, no trips to the store - when every part of our lives shut down.

Me... Jane

By Patrick McDonnell,

Book cover of Me... Jane

This book is about Jane Goodall, famous chimp researcher and United Nations Messenger of Peace. As a child, she shared her backyard “magical world of nature” with her stuffed chimp named Jubilee. The book Tarzan of the Apes expanded her passion into dreams of going to Africa to study animals. “Wow!” She did it, and her stick-to-it observations led to the discovery that chimpanzees make and use tools. As she protects wildlife she also helps people in wild places to get better food, water, and education. Her concerns for all creatures have inspired children around the world to take some action toward a better planet.  


Who am I?

I'm an award-winning, best-selling children’s author who writes about unexpected “wow” moments that stick with me. I look for books and articIes that take me on a deep journey into unknown environments. I aim for nonfiction that reads like a story with an emotional connection to new creatures with fascinating lifestyles. As a writer of dozens of books for children, I always learn much more that can go into each effort. Each book comes into a hazy focus after tons of research. The best “wow” details get woven into an incredible story full of surprise, joy, and admiration for those struggling to survive on our changing plant.  


I wrote...

Into the Sea

By Brenda Z. Guiberson,

Book cover of Into the Sea

What is my book about?

One day I went snorkeling and had a moment with a magnificent sea turtle. “Wow!” Where did she come from? What did she eat? What dangers did she face? I had so many questions and didn’t stop until I had answers. This led to a book about an endangered sea turtle that hatches on a sandy beach and finds ways to survive in the beautiful but dangerous ocean.  

Found

By Salina Yoon,

Book cover of Found

It’s a tender story about the length a friend will go to make sure that their new found friend is taken care of and loved. It’s a book that celebrates love and friendship and it’s one of those books you’ll return to and want to read again and again. It’s a perfect storytime or bedtime book!


Who am I?

I once spotted a mama black bear and her cubs on a camping trip in Manitoba, Canada. I kept a safe distance watching in awe as the cubs climbed trees. I’ve been fascinated with bears ever since. Most of the books I publish center around strong themes of family, friendship, making a difference in the world, and many have a bear as a secondary character. I think there’s always room for more bear stories in the world, don’t you?


I wrote...

Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies

By Carmen Oliver, Jean Claude (illustrator),

Book cover of Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies

What is my book about?

I wanted to write a book that showcased the fun and freedom of writing stories only you can tell. There’s nothing you can’t say when it comes from your heart. Because your voice is your voice—no two are the same. In this book, Adelaide and Bear love writing but Theo does not. Thankfully Adelaide and Bear are ready to team up and convince the entire class, including Mrs. Fitz-Pea, why bears make the best writing buddies? After all, who better to teach you how to fish and forage for new ideas than a bear? If you like this book check out the other books in the Bears Make the Best…series.

The House at Pooh Corner

By A.A. Milne, E.H. Shepard (illustrator),

Book cover of The House at Pooh Corner

Every so often there is a perfect pairing of word and image. This is one of them. And even though this book is not about real animals, the characters A. A. Milne has dreamt up, and E.H. Shepard has given a face to, have the very real attributes of our beloved animal companions. Readers young and old will appreciate the charming, and often wise words of Winnie the Pooh and his companion, Piglet, as they bestow the value of true friendship. And for Christopher Robin, their guardian, the very real bond of unconditional love.  


Who am I?

Animals have always been some of my very best friends. I believe in guardian angels, and I believe animals come to us when we need them most. As children, animals help us to believe in ourselves, they soothe the hurts that come from being misunderstood. When we forget, animals carry a knowing beyond words, with every purr, and chirp, and bark, and nuzzle, they remind us that we are loved. I hope you enjoy these books that celebrate the love of animals and the many ways they help us heal.


I wrote...

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

By Lisa Papp,

Book cover of Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

What is my book about?

Madeline Finn is a struggling reader who just can’t find her voice. But everything changes when she meets Bonnie, the Library Dog. Reading to Bonnie is different. “Bonnie doesn’t laugh when I mess up on a word. Instead, she puts her big paws in my lap and lets me pet her until I figure it out.” But soon, Madeline Finn has to read in school – without Bonnie. Inspired by the therapy dogs at Lisa’s local library, this tale of struggle, persistence, and the power of unconditional love will resonate with readers young and old.

The first in the Madeline Finn series, Madeline Finn and the Library Dog was awarded the Children’s Choice ‘Book of the Year’ and has been translated into 23 languages.

Knuffle Bunny

By Mo Willems,

Book cover of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale is more than the story of a child’s missing beloved object. It is about the everyday things that a father and daughter do together. It is about the lengths a dad will go to fix a problem he was slow in figuring out. It is about the love between father and daughter. This story is so relatable, you can’t help but falling in love, and reading over and over with your kids. Or by yourself. Just because.


Who am I?

As a picture book author and mom, I am constantly inspired by the world around me. I love watching my children, and I love how they adore their dad and he adores them in return. So many of my stories have been inspired by their interactions. While I am no expert on fatherhood, I have been fortunate to have had a loving dad who played “Monster in the Middle,” who took us for rides on his motorcycle, and reminded us that we could accomplish anything we put our mind to. I love books that remind us of the power of a loving father-child relationship and hope you, too, will be lifted by these joyful stories.


I wrote...

Help Wanted, Must Love Books

By Janet Sumner Johnson, Courtney Dawson (illustrator),

Book cover of Help Wanted, Must Love Books

What is my book about?

Shailey loves bedtime, especially reading with her dad. But her dad starts a new job, and it gets in the way of their bedtime routine. So Shailey takes action! She fires her dad, posts a Help Wanted sign, and starts interviews immediately. She is thrilled when her favorite characters from fairytales line up to apply. But Sleeping Beauty can't stay awake, the Gingerbread Man steals her book, and Snow White brings along her whole team.

Shailey is running out of options. Is bedtime ruined forever?

Winnie-the-Pooh

By A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard (illustrator),

Book cover of Winnie-the-Pooh

For me, Winnie-The-Pooh is the quintessential ensemble friendship story. The Hundred Acre Wood is populated with such distinct characters. A bear with very little brain. A bossy rabbit. A scared of nearly everything piglet. A gloomy donkey. A not as smart as he thinks he is owl. And, yet each of these very different characters accepts the other as he is. Well, perhaps Rabbit doesn’t, not all the time. But he does come around in the end. These friends, along with Christopher Robin and Kanga and Roo, create ten of the most beautiful friendship stories ever written. Although Disney did a lovely job animating them, there is nothing quite like cuddling with a small one and reading this book together.


Who am I?

I hold a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. In addition to the usual two-year program, I studied an extra semester, where I read all the best children’s books about friendship. I wanted to learn how the great authors such as A. A. Milne, James Marshall, and Arnold Lobel wrote stories full of so much heart and humor. My love of friendship stories burgeoned from there. And now, it’s with great delight that I offer you my Best Children’s Books About Friendship—and, of course, my very own friendship story, Big Bear and Little Fish.  


I wrote...

Big Bear and Little Fish

By Sandra Nickel, Il Sung Na (illustrator),

Book cover of Big Bear and Little Fish

What is my book about?

Bear Loves Being Big. At the carnival, she wants to win a teddy bear as big as she is. Instead, she wins a fish. A very little fish. Bear doesn’t quite know what to do. She worries and makes lots of assumptions. But with the help of Fish, Bear learns that although she and Fish are different, they are also a little the same.

Gentle, accessible prose by Sandra Nickel is paired with richly textured illustrations by Il Sung Na in this sweet story about accepting others for who they are.

I Don't Like Koala

By Sean Ferrell, Charles Santoso (illustrator),

Book cover of I Don't Like Koala

Koala is the most terrible! He has a terrible face. And terrible paws. And terrible eyes that follow you everywhere! If you love to make up voices, you will find that Adam's repeat of "I don't like Koala" is subversively fun. Unleash your inner naughty child! When Adam receives Koala as a gift, he thinks there can be nothing more terrifying. His parents don't understand and all attempts to ditch this crazy stuff toy come to nothing. And then one night, Adam worries there might be something even more terrible than Koala. This one is absolutely brilliant as a read-aloud.

Who am I?

I'm an award-winning children's book author who loves everything about kid's books--including the smell! With over 50 books on bookstore shelves-- which have been read aloud hundreds of times all over the world-- I feel that I've become an expert on the subject.


I wrote...

People Don't Bite People

By Lisa Wheeler, Molly Idle (illustrator),

Book cover of People Don't Bite People

What is my book about?

People Don't Bite People is a humorous, yet helpful, look at a common early childhood problem. As the book says...It's good to bite a carrot. It's good to bite a steak. It's bad to bite your sister. She's not a piece of cake! Yes, there are a lot of things that go into toddler and preschool mouths. A person should not be one of them!

When Water Makes Mud

By Janie Reinart, Morgan Taylor (illustrator),

Book cover of When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children

Janie Reinart’s lyrical telling of this story, coupled with Morgan Taylor’s beautiful illustrations, takes the reader on a ride filled with love and emotion. It’s about refugee children who have, as the author says, “nothing but dreams.” Big Sister wants Little Sister to be happy, so she decides she can create something from nothing. She makes amazing things, but they don’t last. However, when Big Sister makes a mud doll, the two sisters play together, create other mud dolls, and continue to dreamWhat affected me the most as I read this is that this book is based on a real refugee camp, and proceeds are donated to UNICEF where our collective kindness can have the power to heal. 


Who am I?

I am a teacher, writer, mother, and grandmother who sees the debilitating effects of meanness and the healing effects of kindness daily. In case that isn’t reason enough for writing A Flood of Kindness, I’m also what some call “A Floodie.” Like my character’s home flooded, so did mine. As devastating as it was, the kindness of others was overwhelming. I spent time with children whose homes also flooded. Aside from losing material things, it is easy to feel powerless. Like myself, I found that the children began their healing when they were able to give back, even in very small ways. I knew this had to be my book. 


I wrote...

A Flood of Kindness

By Ellen Leventhal, Blythe Russo (illustrator),

Book cover of A Flood of Kindness

What is my book about?

A Flood of Kindness demonstrates the healing power of kindness to all children, especially those who have experienced grief or loss. When Charlotte’s home floods, she thinks only of her loss until a small act of kindness puts her on the road to healing, and she realizes that she’s not as powerless as she thought. Children will be encouraged to be kind to those who need a friend and empowered to help others in whatever way they can, no matter how small. This story demonstrates that kindness is so powerful that it can heal both the giver and the receiver. 

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